This Week in ‘Not My Sabbatical Any More’

eggMy sabbatical actually ended officially on June 30. I marked the transition with my week’s vacation in Vancouver, and returned to Halifax ready to get back to “regular” work. It’s summer, of course, which means I’m still not teaching, but there’s definitely been a shift in my attitude, attention, and priorities.

For one thing, the fall term is no longer a distant possibility: now it’s a looming reality! So I’ve started drafting syllabi and organizing Blackboard sites. The former is always fun (because it’s both creative and optimistic), while the latter usually has me cursing within the first 15 minutes. I’m incorporating a blog into my graduate seminar, too, and so I’m setting up a WordPress site for that class as well. (Yes, Blackboard now has “blog” options, but one of the points of blogs is that they are not inside boxes. Even though I’m keeping the site private — at least to start with — working in WordPress at least feels more like actual blogging, and one of my goals is to help my students get more comfortable with the possibility of writing where other people can see them. Usually even writing where other students can see them causes a bit of anxiety at first.)

As preparation for the new teaching term, I’ve also been doing some housekeeping: sorting through my file cabinets, recycling redundant or outdated course materials in old teaching folders and properly sorting and filing what remains; archiving hard copies of grade sheets and course evaluations; and generally trying to put things in order. I keep things reasonably organized anyway (at least judging from the stacks of papers and folders visible on some of my colleagues’ floors and bookshelves — though presumably their “system” works for them) but it was a bit surprising to realize how much miscellaneous paper I still had around to deal with.

Another motivation for getting my paperwork sorted is that after much wavering and soul-searching I decided that after 20 years at Dalhousie it was time to put in my application for promotion to Professor. I earned tenure and promotion to Associate Professor back in 2000. It’s actually up to me entirely whether I ever seek another promotion, but it’s tacitly expected that we are all working with that ambition in mind. I’ve been puzzling about how much, if at all, to talk about this here. I think it’s best that I stay away from specifics, both of the case I’m making and of how the application seems to be going, at least until it’s all over. It’s a long, rigorous, and carefully orchestrated process involving every administrative level of the two universities where I am a faculty member (Dalhousie and the University of King’s College — please don’t ask me to explain the relationship, or the complexities of my joint appointment!) as well as external reviewers from at least four other universities. I won’t know the final outcome of my application, one way or the other, until next May, though I suppose I’ll have had some strong hints in the meantime. It will feel strange to keep fairly quiet about something that is going to preoccupy me mentally for months, but I think that talking about the specifics in public might come across as unprofessional, especially to those scrutinizing my file who aren’t accustomed to the relative openness of social media.

cassatI will say, though, just generally, that I am citing Novel Readings as part of my case, and that I am including it in my research dossier alongside my more conventional scholarship. (My teaching and service contributions are the other two major components of the application.) Where or how to “count” blogging in tenure and promotion cases has been much discussed online of course, and I reread a lot of articles and blog posts — including some of my own — on this topic before making up my mind about how I wanted to present Novel Readings. I was ultimately guided, of course, by departmental and faculty regulations. One of the most important tasks for me this month has been writing up a cover letter and research statement to explain and justify not just the blogging component of my file but also the other online writing I’ve been doing. This has been pretty challenging, mostly because there is so much I want to say but I have limited space to say it in. The other rhetorical challenge is to be assertive without sounding defensive, even though I would be a fool not to expect some skeptical responses. I think (hope) I have found the right tone as well as the right key points to make. I guess I’ll find out!

The other parts of the application are demanding in much more mundane ways. I had to compile a folder of every one of my course outlines, for example, which is one sure way to discover that your filing has not been 100% scrupulous over the years. I need to include a list of every class I’ve ever taught and its actual enrollment, and a table of all my numerical scores on course evaluations next to the departmental mean — I am very fortunate that our office administrator, who is helping me with all this, is fabulously competent, efficient, and also very kindhearted, which means almost more than anything else when you’re doing something that inevitably makes you feel exposed and vulnerable. (“It’s like taking your clothes off in public,” I said to her plaintively the other day, “and at my age, too!”)

I was warned that putting this file together was a big job, and it definitely is: it’s most of what I have been doing, really, since the beginning of July. It has been surprisingly interesting in some ways: even gathering my old course outlines has prompted some reflections on what has changed and what has stayed the same in my pedagogy since 1995. Still, I’m glad that my part of it is almost over: I should be able to turn everything in next week, and then, for me, it’s all about the waiting. And it’s also back to the teaching prep, and on with the writing — I’ve got three book reviews on my to-do list in the short term, plus a guest post for another blog, and I have some essay ideas that I’d like to solidify, before term begins and before the momentum I’d built up during my sabbatical fades away entirely.